- Dark Hope: Working for Peace in Israel and Palestine
From the conclusion of the accord between Israel and Egypt in 1979 until fairly recently, the Israeli peace movement dedicated its main energies to try arresting the expanding settlement of new Jewish villages and townships on Palestinian lands in the territories occupied by Israel in 1967. The activities of the movement during the eighties and early nineties largely took the form of big demonstrations in city squares and more focused demonstrations against particular new settlements. The large demonstrations were aimed at winning over public opinion; the activities at the settlements were aimed at disturbing groups of settlers in the act and place of construction. I myself participated in dozens of these demonstrations, hoisting torches in the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, or running up and down the hills of Samaria and Judea clashing with settlers (and sometimes also with the police and army, whose job was to defend the settlers from us, and never vice versa). By the beginning of the third millennium, however, it became clear that these were on the whole futile strategies. A leader of the settlers used to repeat, while laughing at the demonstrators, this Russian proverb: “The dogs are barking, yet the caravan sails on.” And indeed, at the end of the day, we demonstrators would return home, feeling good about ourselves, and the settlers remained on their hill to place another block on the road to peace, another stone in a mounting wall of enmity between Arabs and Jews. [End Page 496]
Despairing of the old strategies, most peace groups in Israel have turned to a new one. Instead of addressing Israeli public opinion, they directly help Palestinians who are suffering at the hands of settlers or are facing rough treatment from the Israeli army and police. Peace groups have begun to address specific grievances. A group of women have formed Roadblock Watch with the aim of civilizing, by their sheer physical presence, the way that soldiers treat Palestinian villagers. Another association, under the name “There Is Justice,” has formed to bring specific injustices before Israeli courts. One of the outstanding groups — whose story Professor Shulman relates in chilling detail in his book — has taken the Arabic word Ta’ayush, meaning Partnership, as its name, in order to indicate that the movement consists of Jews and Arabs working hand in hand. The assistance provided, as Shulman makes clear, is direct. Israeli Jews help in cultivating Palestinian fields when settlers try to intimidate them. Ta’ayush members collect from the ground the poisonous pellets that settlers spread as a means of killing Palestinians’ herds — and members also supply food, medications, and on-site encouragement when long-term curfews and roadblocks create scarcities. Help is provided in season to harvest olives and carry them to the oil press, when settlers try to prevent it; and new olive trees are planted to replace trees that settlers have felled.
One may ask whether modest interventions of this kind will bring peace or even mitigate significantly the duress of Palestinians under occupation. Shulman in his depressing narratives tells us of shocking cruelty but describes, at the same time, the touching human relations and the good faith that the presence of Israeli volunteers demonstrates to Palestinian villagers. While reading Shulman’s book, at least, one may indulge a similar feeling.
Mordechai Bar-On, formerly a member of the Knesset and a colonel in the Israeli army, was a founder of Peace Now. He is currently a senior fellow of the Yad Ben Zvi Research Institute in Jerusalem. His books include The Gates of Gaza: Israel’s Road to Suez and Back and In Pursuit of Peace: A History of the Israeli Peace Movement.